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Why the Catholic Bishops Are Wrong on Immigration Print E-mail
By Brad Miner   
Monday, 29 July 2013

My purpose here is neither bishop-bashing nor politician-baiting, and I have no reluctance in supporting an immigration measure that respects the rule of law and actually accomplishes the goals set down by the U.S. Senate’s most recent “Gang of Eight” in its Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013: progress towards citizenship and secure borders.

However, my guess is that this law – which can’t even be rendered as a proper acronym! – will be about as effective as that monument to futility, the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Marco Rubio’s career – he’s one of the Eight – may get a boost from . . . BSEOIMA, but as long as the border’s a sieve and Latin American governments are either socialist or plutocratic, nothing will change the pace of illegal immigration except a depressed economy in el Norte.

Anyway, I suspect Sen. Rubio, who is Cuban-American and speaks Spanish, believes he is the answer to the Republican Party’s recent electoral woes, and the GOP is just desperate enough to believe him. We’ll see how that works out in 2016.

And I suspect Christian compassion plays a role in animating both the politicians’ and the Catholic bishops’ concerns about the plight of Central American immigrants.

That said, immigration reform as it now stands is a baldly political business, and that’s as true of the bishops as it is of the politicians: votes for the latter; devotees for the former.

I reviewed here a book (God in Action) by Francis Cardinal George in which he favors what amounts to unlimited immigration across our southern border. (Neither he nor any other member of the hierarchy seems overly concerned about our Canadian border or about European, African, or Asian immigrants entering the U.S. through Immigration and Customs Enforcement stations at our air and sea terminals.) I wrote that hardly anyone objects to legal immigration and posed an open question to Cardinal George, which one might also ask of Cardinal Dolan and Archbishop Gomez (two whose archdioceses are favored by immigrants):

“Are visas un-Christian?”

If so, why? If a Lutheran Swede needs a visa and a green card on his way to citizenship, why isn’t he the subject of the sort of moral hyperventilating we hear about the Catholic Mexican?

I believe part of the bishops’ advocacy arises from a desire to have these mostly Catholic southern immigrants come bolster demographics in America’s flagging dioceses.

Thus the Catholic hierarchy also seems untroubled by the current Administration’s bald refusal to enforce immigration laws already on the books and are content with . . . BSEOIMA, which will almost surely not secure the border or establish a chronological red line after which restrictive laws such as govern our northern, eastern, and western borders will actually be enforced at the Rio Grande, at the Baja border, or along the Gulf coast.

The best we’ll be able to say, once whatever new open-borders regime is implemented, is that at least the bishops have ceased to be scofflaws, which is what they are now.

It used to be joked that the Episcopal Church was “the Republican Party at prayer.” That sure isn’t true anymore. And, because of antagonism in which the Catholic Church and the Obama Administration find themselves over religious liberty, there might be a temptation to say that the USCCB is now the genuflecting GOP, but that’s also untrue. (Although Republicans are certainly on their knees.) If anything, the bishops are to the left of some Democrats on immigration.

They’re apolitical when it suits them, of course.

That Mr. Obama wants unlimited immigration and essentially no confirmed voter registration (and no income verification for Obamacare) is quite obviously because “undocumented” workers and “undocumented” voters alike cast ballots for Democrats, and it’s why Bennet, Durbin, Melendez, and Schumer – the Democrats in the Gang of Eight – can’t believe their luck. Their Republican colleagues (along with Rubio: Flake, Graham, and McCain) actually believe . . . BSEOIMA will somehow level the playing field at the polls.

I’m not even sure the bishops ought to have a policy on immigration or any other political issue. As George Neumayr has written:

Imagine if the USCCB had a web page called taxjusticeforamericans.org and offered a “parish kit” that explains the “Catholic Church’s position on tax reform.” And what if it proposed an “intercessory prayer” (as it did for “immigration reform”) for the passage of a Flat Tax act? The cries of “clericalism” would be resounding.

Far be it from me to deny that God’s sovereignty is paramount in matters of justice. But is national sovereignty un-Christian? A first principle of civil governance is respect for the law, but is it Christian to support a law that only giggling cynics believe will do what it promises?

And the sourest point is this: for their “outreach” to immigrants who have entered the U.S. illegally, the bishops will get the same sort of thanks the Church has been receiving from Catholics in those Central and South America nations that are the wellspring of immigration: Gracias y adiós.

The census of Catholics in America is already a charade. For a thousand-and-one reasons most have left the Church, spiritually if not physically, but in Latin America it has been a veritable exodus into Evangelical and Pentecostal versions of Protestantism.

In 1980, 90 percent of Hispanics in the United States were Catholic, but according to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, today just over two-thirds are, and in less than two decades it could be closer to half.

What’s going to reverse that trend? Pope Francis? Marco Rubio? Charismatic Catholicism? Spanish-speaking bishops?

The irony of the bishops’ position is that the immigration they support may actually speed the Church’s demographic decline.

 
Brad Miner is senior editor of The Catholic Thing, senior fellow of the Faith & Reason Institute, and a board member of Aid to the Church In Need USA. He is the author of six books and is a former Literary Editor of National ReviewThe Compleat Gentleman, read by Christopher Lane, is available on audio.
 
The Catholic Thing is a forum for intelligent Catholic commentary. Opinions expressed by writers are solely their own.    

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Comments (39)Add Comment
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written by Nancy Janzen, July 28, 2013
We will never know how many are encouraged to leave their homes and never even get to the US. I realize things are bad in Mexico but with Black unemployment at 25% just where are all these people going to work. Right now the economy just won't support the plan. Best solution I heard was give Detroit as a homestead act to the undocumented aliens.
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written by ScottytheMenace, July 29, 2013
The people who favor this sort of legislation - on all political sides and in the USCCB - claim to do so out of compassion and justice. I ask them: what is just about giving to law breakers the thing they broke the law to obtain? Back here in reality we call that "a reward". How is it just for the millions seeking the same thing, but who are seeking it legally and still waiting? As for compassion, since when is it compassionate to reward bad behavior?
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written by Bill B, July 29, 2013
Mater, Si, Magister, No ...
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written by Deacon Ed Peitler, July 29, 2013
Most bishops cannot manage to handle various Church organizations (like CCHD, CRS, CCUSA, CHA) to execute the mission of the Church which is to evangelize and to refrain from leftist Democrat party partisanship but they can be expert when it comes to US immigration policy. Bishops ought to pay stricter attention to what's going on in the Church and less attention to matters that are best left to Catholic laity to deliberate about. Policy issues are not in the the bishops scope of expertise.
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written by Manfred, July 29, 2013
What a great column, Brad. This has to be one of. or, perhaps, THE best! It is frank and forceful. Thank you.
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written by Jack,CT, July 29, 2013
Mr Miner,
I wander if the theme of this piece
would be different if the Hispanic gave a
promise to stay catholic/
I think basing public policy on "Belief"
is simply silly!
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written by Bruce, July 29, 2013
St. Augustine said that “an unjust law is no law at all”.

It seems to me like God gave all humanity the earth. Everyone should be able to pick the 3 square feet on this earth that they choose to occupy, obviously with consideration for others. States, even the US government, exist to SERVE the people within their borders, not just those lucky enough to have been born there.
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written by Chris in Maryland, July 29, 2013
Well said Mr. Miner.

The BIG DEMOCRAT machine wants no imigration control so that they can get Texas (like the got CA) and never lose another presidential election.

The BIG REPUBLICAN machine wants no imigration control so that they can deliver cheap lower class and middle class labor for BIG BUSINESS.

The BIG CHURCH machine wants no imigration control to keep its NGO machinery running.
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written by Grump, July 29, 2013
Good piece, Brad. After 12 to 15 million (or more) have illegally snuck into, it's not only too late but disingenuous and silly to talk about "securing the border." That ship has sailed. Deportation would be the best but least pragmatic solution. Once the gang's bill passes in some form -- the House will massage it a bit but it will emerge in a similar form for Obama's signature -- it won't be long before the new "citizens" will be on welfare or in the voting booths marking "Democrat."

I've long said there's not a dime's worth of difference between a Republican and a Democrat. Make that a penny.

The immigration bill is nothing more than amnesty, writ large, or, plainly put, a free pass rewarding those who have committed criminal acts.
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written by Ray, July 29, 2013
Our Church needs to help those who make it to our country, even if they got here illegally. Even if we feel our policies are misguided(which I do), we are required to help after they have arrived. Are we required to believe that open borders are a necessity? I hardly think so. Why aren't the bishops you mentioned going down to Mexico to protest with their Mexican counterparts to make that country a better place to live. Cardinal Dolan should be more concerned about a governor in his state who openly flaunts Catholic teachings. Has he ever openly castigated Cuomo's flagrant anti Catholic law making or lifestyle? Not that I have ever seen. The bishops need to stick with their knitting regarding the border security issue. Parishes are bleeding Catholics in large numbers in America. Maybe the hierarchy could formulate a plan to help stop this bleeding of folks in their parishes. The answer could all boil down to metrics. Rome could use the total number of Catholics in each diocese as a major indicator as to how well an area is doing. Immigrants are mostly Catholic and count to keeping some of these bishops numbers the same are even higher. Cynical on my part but possibility---YES!
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written by Bill M, July 29, 2013
Thank you, Mr Miner, for one of the most reasonable discussions of immigration, which is to say one of the few reasonable discussions of immigration, that I have seen in recent years. But you seem to avoid one point: our moral responsibilities to our neighbors. One can disagree with the bishops' stated positions on immigrations, and with their generally overly active political agenda, and yet agree that immigration is not only a question of rule of law. Is it possible that one take into account (1) rule of law; (2) the stability of our own country; and (3) our responsibility to our neighbors? Or must, as always seems to happen in our politics, we choose some considerations and ignore the others?
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written by Allan Lille, July 29, 2013
To answer your question, visas are not necessarily un-Christian, but willfully making the bogus rule of law argument in the face of the needs of many whose dignity is violated on a daily basis is un-Christian. It should give you cause and concern that the bishops and the Pope do not share your interpretation of Catholicism. I recommend serious reflection.
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written by Sue, July 29, 2013
I am concerned that the "USCCB' is being conflated with "the bishops". Please use USCCB rather than generalizing about bishops.

Perhaps the Church should advocate the dismantling of the welfare state since that cannot be sustained with immigration overwhelm, and instead let the Church reach out, as it did in middle ages, with a profusion of charity thereby displaced from the welfare system.
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written by SoCalChick, July 29, 2013
Thank you for this excellent piece. My disagreement with the USCCB on this issue and others causes me much grief. One look at the leftist who is advising the USCCB on immigration and much of their wrongful stance is sourced. The Bishops' apparent dismissal of Laws already on the books does nothing to help dissipate the anti-Catholic attitude espoused by my fellow conservative Americans. The funding arm of the USCCB - The Catholic Campaign for Human Development CCHD is another Democrat cash cow. The CCHD openly funds pro-abortion and Democrat community organizing non-profits that actively work against Catholic beliefs. Boycott the CCHD collection at your parish. The CCHD will most likely be slithering up the aisle on its belly the Sunday before Thanksgiving.
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written by petebrown, July 29, 2013
I think you are more or less right, Brad, about the motivations of the USCCB. By all accounts, immigration (both legal and illegal) benefits the immigrants themselves and as most of these are Catholics from Mexico and (increasingly) from Central and South America, it would be hard to imagine the USCCB being opposed to efforts to stop it.

But I think you need to drill down below the raw political calculation to look at why Republicans are in favor of this. Business--who largely funds GOP campaigns-- overwhelmingly loves cheap plentiful labor and slack labor markets all of which serve to depress wages for people in the lower half of the income spectrum. This has been the main reason why efforts to limit immigration in the past have been blocked politically.

Thus--this obsession with "border security" and "illegal immigration" sort of misses the larger point that immigration both legal and illegal has been largely unskilled at a time when lower skilled Americans (both naturalized and native born) have experienced a decline in real wages in the past decades. The gang of 8 idea to deal with this is simply raising the level of legal immigration to nearly double the levels that it has been. It is hard for me to see with so many millions of Americans out of work or underemployed that this is in the national interest. The USCCB should think beyond the religious affiliation of the immigrants themselves to the broader issue of stagnating and declining wages for many workers already here!!!
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written by Chris in Maryland, July 29, 2013
Put together, Brad and Petebrown are right.
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written by William, July 29, 2013
Great column! When I speak to fellow Catholics about immigration, I always cite CCC 2241. Why, I wonder, do the bishops always seem to come down in opposition to that quite rational teaching?

In California, and other states which have suffered the noisy and near-violent demonstrations of La Raza, I have little doubt that the bishops and priests particularly ignore CCC 2241, especially that part of it which refers to the obligations of those accepted by the host country.

I cannot support the USCCB while they continue to oppose Church teaching. Now while they continue to support the highly corrupt CCHD, which funds socialist and gay organizations.
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written by Bob in Va, July 29, 2013
Excellent article Mr. Miner---many thanks. As a long time USCCB watcher and as someone who has written about its role in the 2009 health care "debate", I believe you found the dirty linen. Quickly to add:
--there are the thorny and ignored theological "issues" which seem to make an exception to the moral point that one should not engage in sin to justify an outcome. Many of the illegal immigrants arrived, or are staying, here by means of truly sinful deception and fraud. Why in this context does the means justify the ends.
--there is 'loud' silence of anything critical of the Mexican regimes which encourage this behavior and which benefit from the backflow of cash from here to there. Afterall, Mexico is a country rich in natural resources, agricultural opportunities, ports, etc, but mired by successive repressive and corrupt governments. The bishops should be demanding a change in Mexico which advances freedom and, thereby, advances human dignity.
--how is it possible that the USCCB and many bishops can advocate the abandonment of any enforcement of reasonable laws intended to protect the American ideal of citizenship, and then in wondrous irony complain about certain segments of obamacare which jeopardize the Church's institutional freedom.

Finally, I have seen first hand the consequences of illegal immigration on small one factory towns. It's ugly with higher crime rates, and stagnate and declining wages. The USCCB is in a dangerous alliance with statists and corporatists.

Again, many thanks for speaking out.
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written by Manfred, July 29, 2013
One of the definitions of a nation is that it possesses integral borders. Go to New Mexico and you are in Mexico. The Republican interest in the immigration issue stems from the fact they attribute the 2012 election loss to Latinos not supporting them as the Republicans are too "adult" and they believe in laws and rules. That is why we refer to some immigrants as ILLEGAL. Another definition of a Nation is that the people possess a common language. Make a phone call to a utility or a corporation. You will have two languages answer the phone. Go to vote. The ballots are in two languages. The third definition of a Nation is that the people possess a common world-view. Mr. Obama has spent five years convincing us we don't. Zero for three?
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written by jz, July 29, 2013
Geez...I just don't understand articles like this. First the author says "My purpose here is neither bishop-bashing nor politician-baiting", then he proceeds to engage in bishop-bashing and what appears to be politician-baiting.

I'm to the right of most bishops on immigration (far to the right of some), but this article spends a whole lot of time presuming the motivations for the bishops' position and little on actual debate. When you presume somebody's motivation, you are doing nothing other than judging them (not judging as in saying an objective wrong is in fact wrong which is totally different). I just don't understand where this type of article really gets us other than nobody trusting anybody else.

I believe the bishops when they say they hold their position based on compassion. I just disagree with them and would argue that what many argue for (effectively open borders) is unsustainable and ultimately leads to the most vulnerable being taken advantage of. I only ask that those who disagree are capable of having an honest debate without questioning my motives.
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written by KyPapist, July 29, 2013
If I was a sheriff south of the border, I'd root for amnesty and a no-border policy. Then I'd just empty my jail every month by busing my inmates to El Norte.
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written by Alecto, July 29, 2013
Thanks for reminding me why I am fighting hard to remove the tax exemption of the Roman Catholic Church. God willing, we Americans shall have justice. Catholic Charities receives the majority of its funding from the American taxpayer, which amounts to billions of dollars annually...more funding than the TSA. Americans vehemently disagree with the Catholic Church on this issue, but when have Catholics ever respected their the judgement of their fellow citizens on any issue?

This vile open borders policy has resulted in murder and mayhem, rapes, robberies and other unspeakable crimes against our citizens. CC's support for terrorism through its "refugee" relocation contracts resulted in the Tsarnaev family being brought to our shores. It is as crucial that taxpayers defund and eliminate Catholic "Charities" as it is to defund and eliminate Planned Parenthood. Carry your own water, bishops, and Catholics, and stop picking our pockets or pretending you're being "charitable".

After that, I'll be working very hard to get support for the total defeat of as many Catholic politicians as I can. That shouldn't be very difficult in 2014. Victory is OURS!

Since this website doesn't allow for facts or debate of anything "Catholic", I'm sure this post won't be "approved".
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written by Alex, July 29, 2013
I hope none of you ever have to leave to another country because of hunger, violence, or corruption in your home country. If you do, I hope you follow the legal path even if you have wait 10+ years and see you childrend grow up in misery. After all, we were made for the law weren't we?
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written by Mal, July 30, 2013
Those who run away from persecution are genuine refugees. Some of them are not able to get visas.
However, there are some who want a better life. These are not refugees. They should wait their turn just as others do.
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written by Sue, July 30, 2013
Read Father Patrick Bascio's book "On the Immorality of Illegal Immigration". Many good arguments from the point of view of the families left behind in Mexico - wife, children, grandma, grandpa. Those that remained didn't expect hubby to get US citizenship, forget the family, and never return.
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written by Chris Lee, July 30, 2013
Great article. Many have commented on the seeming abandonment of church teaching on this subject. I have to agree. When we abandon our principals, like the principal of subsidiarity, we will reap what we sow. We are starting to "sow" that abandonment with Obamacare and so too will we sow with this law if enacted.
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written by ctd, July 30, 2013
I don't know which is more worrisome - this article or the comments praising it. Miner appears to not understand the legislation, Catholic doctrine, or the bishops' actual positions. His lack of knowledge is then compounded by ideological cynicism.
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written by William Perales, July 30, 2013
Archbishop Gomez's position sounds reasonable to me. In 2010, he gave a talk about his position, which seems in line with all of his personal statements since. It is called "Let Your Hospitality and Good Works Abound – The Catholic Contribution to Immigration Reform".

You can find it at the Catholics United for Faith website.
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written by Todd, July 30, 2013
Interesting article, although I think misguided in places. Nevertheless the timing is apt as it coincides with a new book, On "Strangers No Longer," put out by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and published by Paulist Press that aims at highlighting the position of the bishops on migration related issues, including comprehensive reform (full disclosure, I am one of the editors). It might be of interest to you or some of your readers.
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written by craig, July 30, 2013
It seems to me that the Democrats and the bishops are both treating the United States as a chump to be rolled. Where is it written that compassion to the stranger requires giving him citizenship, voting rights, free education, health care, housing, and welfare?

Sure, accident of birth does not make natural-born American citizens any more deserving of a comfortable lifestyle, any more than accident of birth makes the son of a king deserving of the throne. (Although I don't hear the Church repenting of her centuries of support for monarchies!) But it is offensive in this debate that we are bombarded with the attitude that every non-American somehow 'deserves' comfort (at American taxpayer expense) if they can only get here.

Follow that logic to its inevitable conclusion and you must abolish all national borders and private property. You will end up with Party commissars telling ordinary citizens how many rooms in their family homes must be given over to total strangers. I haven't heard of any bishops offering up rooms in their own mansions for immigrants.

Americans by birth inherit all sorts of responsibilities -- income taxes, jury service, draft registration, etc. -- and I don't hear anyone talking about the responsibilities that immigrants are going to take on by becoming legal, only the benefits that will accrue to them.

I can buy the idea that people who as children were illegally brought in by their parents are innocent and should not be punished. They should have a path to citizenship; their parents should not. Let the parents have legality, perhaps, but sacrifice the perks of citizenship as 'payment' for their violation of the law.
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written by Romy1, July 31, 2013
Was our Lord perhaps being facetious when he commanded, "Render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar"?
The bishops' responsibility to reach out to the culture does not necessarily means that they render the Church irrelevant in the process - as they seem to have done, judging by the demographics.

What I fear most is that these poor, largely honorable and hard-working illegal immigrants are walking into a trap. It seems that both political parties are looking to these people to pay our debt and our huge entitlement programs. They are the new slaves to be used for the maintenance of the socialist apparatus we have legislated.

But they are hardly stupid; quite the contrary, they are graced with a keen understanding that tells them to remain undocumented - and I hope they do.
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written by jpaYMCA, July 31, 2013
I know several LEGAL immigrant families who - yes - struggled mightily for years, but eventually they obtained citizenship while at the same time HOME-SCHOOLING their 5-7 children (no confidence in the Catholic schools around here to give an authentically Catholic education). It's hard, yet possible. Reform of immigration LAWS: yes. Abolition of any laws/borders = country's suicide. Boston should be proof enough. No, of course they weren't Latin Americans, but they entered our country too easily while hard-working families are struggling for 10-25 (yes, 25 in one case of which I know) to obtain legal citizenship.
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written by Alan, July 31, 2013
Why would a Canadian want to become an illegal in the US?
It just makes no sense. In fact, Canada has illegal Americans living throughout Canada and taking jobs from honest Canadians.
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written by Ray Mt, August 01, 2013
I totally disagree with you Mr. Miner... and I found your commentaries a little bit offensive to the spanish speaking audience.
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written by Deacon James Stagg, August 01, 2013
Well said, Mr. Miner.

Most all of us who were LEGAL immigrants, or came from families that were LEGAL immigrants, wonder what in the world the USCCB is doing in promoting lawlessness.

Your points are well made. Thank you!
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written by Mike in KC, MO, August 05, 2013
"To grasp American immigration policy, to the extent that it can be grasped, one need only remember that the United States forbids smoking while subsidizing tobacco growers."
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written by Ben Callicoat, August 08, 2013
All this hyperventilating about {Sob!} "law breakers" is just baloney. If you went over the speed limit yesterday, you broke the law and committed a misdemeanor. You are by definition, a "law breaker."

That's the same level of law breaking that illegal immigrants are guilty of, by the way, a misdemeanor. You did it so you could get to work 30 seconds earlier. The Mexicans who came across the border yesterday were trying to feed their families. Who's the worse offender?

Second, everyone glides right past the fact that due to onerous restrictions on the number of Mexican immigrants, it is essentially IMPOSSIBLE for most unskilled Mexican laborers to enter the country legally. So it's not as if they could simply fill out some forms and come on over.

Third, this country was founded on the practice and belief that ANYONE who can get here should be able to share Liberty. That's what the Statue of Liberty and Emma Lazarus' words actually say. ("Give me your tired, your poor. Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free....") It is only VERY recently in our history (the 1920's) that we began to unilaterally restrict our borders. Even unto my father's childhood, anyone was welcome to legally walk right across the border and enter the country anytime they damn well pleased.

Fourth, the entire debate betrays an unfounded fear that the U.S. cannot support the number of people who want to emigrate from Mexico. Behind that fear is a belief that over-population is a problem. It simply isn't so. The entire population of the world could easily fit into the state of Texas alone, much less the population of Mexico, or the actual limited subset of poor Mexicans who want to emigrate (not all of them do, of course.) In the next 5 to 10 years, the world will be entering "Demographic Winter", i.e., the problem of UNDER population, not over population.

Finally, in Matthew 25:31, Our Lord admonishes us to welcome the stranger (immigrant.) Indeed, He says that those who do not, are not His and will be cast out into the darkness wailing and gnashing their teeth. ("Truly, as you did it to the least of my brothers, you do it to Me." Mt. 25:40). Don't be a miserly "goat" -- be open hearted and welcome the least of His brothers, and by his own words, the King Himself.



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written by Marge Wood, August 24, 2013
At least one priest says the Bishops are wrong and that illegal immigration is "IMMORAL": Look for Fr. Bascio on YouTube.

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written by Julius, February 10, 2014
"The BIG DEMOCRAT machine wants no imigration control so that they can get Texas (like the got CA) and never lose another presidential election.

"The BIG REPUBLICAN machine wants no imigration control so that they can deliver cheap lower class and middle class labor for BIG BUSINESS.

"The BIG CHURCH machine wants no imigration control to keep its NGO machinery running."

Wow. How true Chris.

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